Student safety is always a priority, but it’s thrust into the limelight whenever something tragic happens to shatter any sense of security the public may feel. For example, the mass shooting at Umpqua College in Oregon earlier this month shocked the country—not least because it is the worst of 52 school shootings so far this year.
Such high-profile incidents aren’t the only risk on campus. “An estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years,” President Obama said when he announced the “It’s On Us” campaign last year.
Schools should be a safe haven, but these incidents as well as other brawls, thefts, and safety issues show how much administrators need to do to keep their campus communities safe.
Educational institutions and governments spend millions of dollars to improve campus safety, employing everything from strategic environmental lighting, to alarms to fire protection to video surveillance. However, gaps still remain and it’s often due to one reason: One solution isn’t enough.
Integrating Tech with Human Interaction
One of the most important things schools can do to proactively improve security is to focus on human interaction. Ensuring students know what to do, who to talk to, and the services available is a critical first step—whether in case of emergency, when feeling uncomfortable (i.e. on-campus escort programs), or to easily access counselling support.
“Honestly, most young people know something bad might be happening before we adults ever know. They’ll come up and tell the officer, ‘Hey, such and such and is going to go down after school’,” Jon Best, director of student services for Redlands Unified School District, said in an interview with Emergency Management.
In addition to building relationships, he says regular drills around different scenarios help students and educators feel more comfortable should a real emergency occur.
Paired with such a culture of awareness, technology can be used to create a tighter defense. For example:
- Access control can be as basic as locked doors and a visitor check-in desk, to more advanced systems like video entry systems, card scanners, and digital keypads.
- Communication systems are critical in emergencies of any size or type. Campus security teams use everything from radios, Poster Makers, to public address systems and video displays to share information; some even have a direct campus-to-police system. “Blue light” towers, phones, and call boxes are a common sight on college campuses, and the BlueLight app—which connects users to campus security or 9-1-1—puts access into the pocket of any student with a smartphone.
- Video surveillance has long been used for security at colleges and universities—great for image capturing and monitoring in particular. There are also some creative uses of video conferencing and robots that act like watchmen around large campuses.
- Intrusion detection systems use technology, like photoelectric beams, to detect movement. Lower-end systems use “line of sight,” with anything that breaks the beam triggering an alert. More sophisticated systems can use multiple beams or more sensitive technology for more accurate detection.
On their own, each one of these systems serves a purpose. But these systems aren’t just expensive—with training and operational costs for support, management, and maintenance—they’re also less effective unless integrated with a wider strategy. “We often find clients that have pieced together technologies One integrated system can help manage expenses and, most importantly, ensure early detection when there is an incident.
Bringing Different Systems Together
An effective strategy for campus safety needs to consider multiple factors:
- Existing systems and services.
- Specific gaps and vulnerabilities.
- The needs of each stakeholder.
- Maintaining customer relationships.
- Technical specifications and considerations.
- Program management and promotion.
- External and/or community supports.
- Preventative deterrents versus more active interventions.
The result will be a mix of opportunities for efficient technical services and effective person-to-person communication; some will have budget implications and some may be a matter of instituting policies that drive stronger collaboration.
For example, in some areas a physical presence may serve as a deterrent, whether that’s security personnel doing their “rounds,” or a visible surveillance camera. But technology also enables human resources to cover more territory.
Cameras have proven effective for immediate scrutiny and ongoing monitoring. Now, they can be paired with intrusion detection systems: The aforementioned beam detector senses interference, triggering a nearby camera to email an image—or send a live feed—to a nearby security station, where staff can determine the best response.
Video can also use analytics programs to assess movement patterns and behaviors, like walking or driving. Such systems can then be used to send alerts when unusual activity—like climbing, speeding, or lurking—triggers a reaction.
It’s critical for educational institutions to embrace—and upgrade to—more effective security practices. A positive step in that direction is an integrated security strategy, which can help authorities ensure a safer campus environment with a quicker and more effective response when help is needed.